Donn's Articles » 2000 Guineas preamble

2000 Guineas preamble

If next year’s 2000 Guineas was one of those 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles that your aunt buys you for Christmas, and which sits on the dining room table for the length of the holidays, inviting input from all family members, then last weekend was a breakthrough weekend in which a number of essential pieces fell into place.

The first piece was Frankel’s victory at Doncaster on Friday. It was only a conditions race that he won, it was just a three-horse race, and a lot of the interest was removed when Farhh got into a state in the stalls and had to be withdrawn. Indeed, it would have been disappointing if Frankel had not been able to beat a John Gosden-trained newcomer who was weak in the market and the thoroughly exposed 90-rated Diamond Geezah, but the manner in which he travelled and quickened was deeply impressive. As well as that, the time that he posted was good, one of just two times that dipped below Racing Post standard on the day.

This was just Frankel’s second ever race. He is almost certain to progress again, and it was obvious from his post-race interview that trainer Henry Cecil holds the colt in really high regard. A son of Galileo out of the Danehill mare Kind, a half-sister to Powerscourt who won listed races over five and six furlongs, Frankel has already won over a mile, and he should have little difficulty getting the Guineas trip next season.

Saamidd presented his case in the curtain-raiser at Doncaster on Saturday, the Group 2 Champagne Stakes. Like Frankel, the Godolphin colt had won his only previous race but, unlike Frankel, he was stepping up into Pattern class. His victory was no less impressive. He showed a fine turn of foot a furlong and a half out in the centre of the track to take it up and go clear, just nudged through the final 150 yards by Frankie Dettori to come home over two lengths in front of Approve.

The form of this race was considerably stronger than the form of Frankel’s conditions race – Approve had won the Norfolk Stakes and the Gimcrack Stakes before this, while third-placed Waiter’s Dream had won the Acomb Stakes – but the time was a second and a half slower on ground that was estimate to be similar to Friday’s ground. There is also the Godolphin issue: Island Sands is still the last colt who spent the winter in Dubai and won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on the first Saturday in May, and that was in 1999, 11 renewals ago.

While there was plenty going on in the UK, the most informative Guineas pointer was probably the Vincent O’Brien National Stakes run at The Curragh on Saturday. This race often is a good pointer. In the last 13 years, the National Stakes winner has gone on to win the Guineas the following year three times, and to finish second twice.

Zoffany and Pathfork were, respectively, first and second favourites for the Guineas in some lists on Saturday morning, and they dominated the betting for Saturday’s race. It was pity that the anticipated duel didn’t materialise, as Zoffany floundered on the ground. Johnny Murtagh reported afterwards that he was struggling from three furlongs out, and he probably did well to finish third.

It is easy to put this performance down to the ground – Zoffany’s year-older half-sister, Queen Of Mean, did win her maiden on easy ground last month, but she is by Pivotal, whose progeny generally like to get their toe in – and the Phoenix Stakes winner remains a high class juvenile, but he has run seven times already now, which is more than ideal for an Aidan O’Brien-trained prospective Guineas winner. At this stage in their respective juvnenile years, Henrythenavigator, George Washington and King Of Kings had raced just four times, while Footstepsinthesand hadn’t been seen in public yet. Even the teak-tough Rock Of Gibraltar had raced just five times by mid-September 2001.

In victory, Pathfork further solidified his Guineas claims. The Jessica Harrington-trained colt didn’t like the ground, he raced out in the centre of the track, he struck the front fully two furlongs out and he was challenged all the way to the line, yet he stuck his head out willingly and battled gamely. We knew beforehand that he had a lovely cruising speed and a turn of foot, but we hadn’t seen this willingness and dogged ability to battle before Saturday. It looks like he has all of the essential arrows in his quiver now.

As mentioned before, however, owners Tommy and Bonnie Hamilton hail from Kentucky and, with the Breeders’ Cup set to be staged at Churchill Downs this year, there is a real chance that the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile could be on Pathfork’s autumn agenda, which probably wouldn’t be ideal as a Guineas preparation. More than that, it may be the Kentucky Derby and not the Guineas that will be his primary objective in 2011, which would be a real shame.

His absence from the Guineas picture would be a real loss. Although he is by American sire Distorted Humor, who has already sired a Kentucky Derby winner in Funny Cide, his damside is all European, he is out of a Sadler’s Wells half-sister to Spinning World. Also, crucially, he has proven that he is top class on turf. He may not be as effective on dirt.

Finally, Casamento threw himself headlong into the Guineas picture by running Pathfork to a head. Sheikh Mohammed’s colt had looked mighty impressive in leading all the way on his only previous run at Tipperary, and trainer Michael Halford obviously thought enough of him to allow him take his chance in a Group 1 contest on just his second ever start. He did have the rail to help him through the final two furlongs, and he did have Pathfork to chase, but he ran all the way to the line, pulling five lengths clear of Zoffany in third. A big scopey individual, he will surely progress significantly with racing and with maturity, although he may also be spending his winter further east than Doneany.

Next up for Casamento is apparently the Dewhurst. We should be able to add more pieces then.

(c) The Racing Post, 14th September 2010